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China on Sunday conducted the maiden flight of its domestically developed AG600, the world’s largest amphibious aircraft, from an airport on the shores of the South China Sea. This is the latest step in China's military modernisation programme. Powered by four turboprop engines, the AG600 can carry 50 people during maritime search-and-rescue missions, and can scoop up 12 metric tonnes of water within 20 seconds for fire-fighting trips, according to Xinhua news agency. The AG600, codenamed Kunlong, can reach the southernmost edge of China's territorial claims in the area. The state media said the aircraft was the “protector spirit of the sea, islands and reefs”. AG600 claims to be the world's largest amphibious aircraft. Photo: Twitter (@PDChina) State-owned Aviation Industry Corp of China (AVIC) has spent almost eight years developing the aircraft, which is roughly the size of a Boeing Co 737 and is designed to carry out marine rescues and battle forest fires. China has stepped up research on advanced military equipment as it adopts a more muscular approach to territorial disputes in places such as the disputed South China Sea, rattling nerves in the Asia-Pacific region and the United States. Its potential use in the South China Sea, where China, Vietnam, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Brunei all have overlapping claims. The AG600’s chief designer, Huang Lingcai, was quoted in the official China Daily earlier this month as saying it can make round trips without refueling from the southern island province of Hainan to James Shoal, claimed by China but which is located close to Sarawak in Malaysian Borneo. Photo: Twitter (@XHNews) The aircraft has received 17 orders so far from Chinese government departments and Chinese companies.
It has a maximum flight range of 4,500 km (2,800 miles) and a maximum take-off weight of 53.5 tonnes.It can use conventional airports and also land and take-off from the sea. At-sea rescue capability - especially for rescues on islands and reefs - is needed for both civil and military uses, Fu Qianshao, an air defense expert, told the Global Times on Sunday. The AG600 could join the military directly, said Fu. "The training missions conducted by China's navy and air force have been more frequent, which calls for rescue capability, and the AG600 is a good option," he added. It has a 39.6-meter-long fuselage and a 38.8-meter wingspan Photo: Twitter (@XHNews) The AG600 is the third member of China's "large aircraft family" following the large freighter Y-20 and large passenger aircraft C919, which made maiden flights in 2013 and 2017. The Y-20 entered service with China's air force in July 2016. Fu said that the three large aircraft could all be transferred into military use when necessary. "AG600 could be transferred into an anti-submarine patrol aircraft capable of carrying military equipment." China is in the midst of a massive military modernisation programme, ranging from testing anti-satellite missiles to building stealth fighters and the country’s first indigenous aircraft carrier, to add to an existing one bought from Ukraine. ALSO READ: World's largest amphibious aircraft AG600 makes maiden flight in China